Digital Age has Hurt America’s Ability to Write Well

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Nostalgia is overrated, a Harvard psychologist says. “The bad-dominates-good phenomenon is multiplied by a second source of bias, sometimes called the illusion of the good old days,” Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker said at a forum sponsored by the Cato Institute last November. “People always pine for a golden age.”

“They’re nostalgic about an era in which life was simpler and more predictable.” And Dr. Pinker has some cold water to throw at them, metaphorically speaking, of course.

“When I told people that I was writing a book on why writing is so bad and how we might improve it, the universal reaction was that writing is getting worse and that the language is degenerating,” Dr. Pinker said at the Cato forum. “There are a number of popular explanations for this alleged fact: ‘Google is making us stoopid’ (as a famous Atlantic story put it).”

“Twitter is forcing us to write and think in 140 characters. The digital age has produced ‘the dumbest generation.’”

“When people offer these explanations to me, I ask them to stop and think. If this is really true, it implies that it must have been better before the digital age. And of course those of you who are old enough to remember the 1980s will recall that it was an age when teenagers spoke in articulate paragraphs, bureaucrats wrote in plain English, and every academic article was a masterpiece in the art of the essay. (Or was it the 1970s?)”